Over the past three years, 12 Monkeys has built a mythology that doesn’t just surpass the namesake film that inspired the series — it’s not even in the same stratosphere. And it hasn’t been for a while. As the show looks to wrap up its ambitious, twisty run, the writers have cleverly taken the action back to where it all began.
Spoilers ahead for “The End,” “Ouroboros,” and “45 RPM,” the first night of a four-week event rolling out the final season of SYFY’s 12 Monkeys.
The first three episodes moved the mythology ahead in big ways, doling out reveals and making sense of some lingering questions that could’ve made for some messy narrative threads. Instead, the pieces start to fit together quickly. Though it can be a lot to digest this fast (especially compared to the more drawn-out pace of Seasons 1-2), these three installments do an excellent job of keeping the focus on character moments that provide some emotional through lines to the mythological heavy lifting.
If nothing else, Night 1 of 12 Monkeys’ final season served as a shocking, twisty, smart reminder that this is still one of the best shows on television, low-ish ratings be damned.
“The future’ll find us. It always does.” - Cole
Most shows would opt to save this episode title for a series finale, but 12 Monkeys isn’t most shows. The season premiere serves as a reset of sorts, moving everything from the Splinter facility to the status quo itself, fresh off Season 3’s bloody finale. Jones is saved, but barely, and is poisoned by radiation that will almost certainly leave her dead sooner rather than later. Supporting players Lasky and Marcus are seemingly killed. Deacon is left behind when they splinter the facility away to escape from Olivia’s massive assault being led from Titan. The team has now relocated to underneath the Emerson Hotel that served as Cole’s de facto base of operations across the time stream. We get to see the far-future version of Room 607, which is looking a bit worse for wear but is still standing.
We also get the shocking reveal that splintering the facility didn’t just move its location — it also moved it through time. The jump dropped the surviving team back in 2043 when the events of the show first began, back when Ramsey was still alive and Cole was just a naive scavenger gearing up for a mission to kill “Leland Frost.” It’s amazing to see the story thrown back to those initial machinations, and how seemingly simple the pitch was when the show began. Things have, obviously, changed a lot since then. Cole and Jones get to watch some of that early mission prep from a catwalk above the action, literally peeking in at their old lives from above (even if it does seem a bit odd no one happens to look up).
If all that sounds a bit heavy, Emily Hampshire’s Jennifer Goines was there to help alleviate some of that tension. Jennifer resurfaces in Prague circa 2018, just as the virus is taking hold of the city (along with the rest of the globe). She pulls a Sydney Bristow to steal a mysterious Ouroboros device that is destined for Cole, and has been keeping herself company with an imaginary friend of herself. She’s apparently not hearing her primary voices anymore, so she fills the gap with a version of herself. We also get to see both Jennifer’s version of the break-in, and reality, and it’s a positively hilarious sequence.
The ouroboros — a historic symbol for both the beginning and the end — is an obvious tool to tie back into this time-travel tale, but the symbolism works. They return to where it all began, and the cycle goes round and round.
Episode 2 does quite a bit of maneuvering to get the disparate members of the team headed in different directions on various missions, but it’s not without some true character moments. This time jump allows Cole one last chance to talk with Ramsey again, while Jones has the opportunity to thank Marcus for his service. Those are just the types of brutal, touching character moments you can only get in a time-travel show.
All these characters have changed and grown along the way, but few more than Cassie. She’s strong, fierce, fearless and can kick a whole lot of butt. With no clear way forward, she’s desperate for a mission. For purpose. For a way to fight back. She finds it in an old police photo of a young Olivia, who was arrested in the 1970s. That report gives them a time, a date, and a place for where they know Olivia will be. So Cassie goes solo to try and kill Olivia before she can grow up to cause so much pain and harm.
It’s in this episode we start to get glimpses that all of this is fate. The trip back to the beginning, and the path the team is on to this point. They steal an energy cell from the time machine in the past to revamp their damaged one, and Jones notes that finally explains why the core had such a power drain when they first used it all those years ago. Even Cassie seemingly speaks to herself on a piece of archived news footage, telling her past self that a circle, a loop, is sometimes a second chance. This trip to the past always happened. As Cole, Cassie and Jones fight to break the cycle, they’ve seemingly followed right along their preordained path.
The story ends on a cliffhanger: Jennifer is cornered by Interpol agents and takes a literal leap of faith in front of an oncoming train to escape. But what is her faith in, exactly?
“We’re gonna break it.” -Cole
This episode is largely a vignette telling the fascinating origin story of young Olivia, framed around a spinning 45 record, and it’s a damn fine hour of television. While future Olivia grapples with the pressure of stepping into the role of the witness, Cassie stalks young Olivia in 1971 with plans to kill her — but accidentally winds up in the jail cell beside her instead. After realizing Olivia is pregnant, she shifts her plan from assassination to intervention. But like most things in 12 Monkeys, nothing is quite what it seems. Where Cassie thought young Olivia was trying to escape from the Army of the 12 Monkeys, it turns out she was actually on the run to evade her mother, who wanted her daughter to break free from the time cult. It’s all set up in a stunning fakeout, where Olivia kills her only friend to escape. The story also masterfully pulls the rug out from under this burgeoning redemption tale.
Cassie’s mission comes to a head as this 1970s story dovetails with modern-day Olivia, who has thrust herself into the time stream in an effort to better understand the Witness’ prophecies and plan. Her followers are beginning to doubt her command, since Olivia herself can’t figure out what she’s supposed to do next. But her mind-bending dip into the time stream answers many of those questions. Olivia gets a wide view of time itself, and starts to zip in and out of the timeline sending many of the Witness’ mysterious messages we’ve seen over the past three seasons. It’s clear this season is winding toward an endgame, answering lingering questions that date well back into Season 1.
Olivia saw many of the Witness’ machinations from the other side, and now she’s filling in the blanks herself as she sports that wicked plague mask. Future Olivia possesses her past self to chat with Cassie, a chilling interaction where Cassie plays her part in the timeline. Again, things are playing out just as they always have. Are we approaching the end, or simply the end of the loop? She also comes to the realization that Titan isn’t finished, and completion the city-sized time machine could hold the key to breaking time for good, and bringing on the red forest permanently.
Also of note: Deacon survived, and is captured by Olivia, who promotes him into her inner circle after he renounces Cassie and Cole. But does he really mean it? Deacon is clearly hurt after being left for dead when the facility splintered away, but he’s also a survivor, and cozying up to Olivia is the only play if he wants to make it out alive in that moment.
So why did Jennifer take that suicidal leap in front of a train? Because she knew Cole — at least a version of Cole — would be there to save her. The future version of Cole, lovingly known as “Future Asshole,” shows up in the nick of time via his time-travel vest to rescue Jennifer. He tells Jennifer that they’re closer than ever to the end, and she needs to find present-day Cole. Everyone is soon reunited, and it turns out that Interpol agent was actually part of some mysterious group that has passed down the ouroboros device for generations. Once Cole gets his hands on it, he quickly solves the riddle thanks to a childhood story written by his mother. So was she part of this group as well? Or at least connected to them?
Inside the device, which has been protected and passed down all these years, is a brief message: “Blackleaf May 11, 1852.” Whether he wants it or not, Cole finally has a new mission — and its one that’s been waiting for him for centuries.